Halloween Reads 2013

This was a crazy month in terms of book reading. I had planned to read certain novels to get me in the mood for Halloween, and since I’m down to the last book with a couple of days left to go, I think I’m going to mark that goal as complete.

I’m still addicted to YA books, so there’s a couple of them in there. I also picked titles that have a movie adaptation that I could watch soon after finishing the book and see if it’s equally as creepy as the novel. One problem that I didn’t foresee in this reading challenge is to take into account how sensitive I am to descriptions of gore and sexual violence, which unfortunately, is all over horror literature. There were a couple of titles that I refused to read after dark or if I was alone because just thinking about the situations described between the pages creeped me the heck out.

Anyway, on to the books! 

hornsHorns by Joe Hill (Harper Collins, 2010). Curious enough about the Daniel Radcliffe indie movie that adapted this story, even though I didn’t realize it wasn’t even picked up for distribution when I started reading this book.

It’s the story of Ig Parrish, a dude who wakes up one day, hungover to within an inch of his life, to find horns growing on the top of his head. With the horns, he also unexpectedly gains the ability to hear people’s secret desires as well as the ability to nudge them into doing all the bad things that they’re tempted to do… ya know, just like the devil. Oh, btw, Ig is a “person of interest” for the rape & murder of his high school sweetheart. How’s that for a morning?

Funny at times, especially when Ig hears all the deviant things that his friends and neighbors are actually thinking. A good portion of the novel covers the point of view of the sociopathic antagonist, which was disturbing, to say the least. I think the author did that for additional shock value, not necessarily to make the psycho a sympathetic character (though if that was the author’s intention, it certainly didn’t work for me!) The revenge romp parts are fun to read though, it was kinda interesting to see what Ig was going to do next.

The Waking Dark by Robin Wasserman (Knopf, 2013). I became a huge fan of Ms. Wasserman after reading The Book of Blood and Shadow over the summer. The other book was moody and ominous, and so when I found out that the new novel was going to be just as creepily delicious, I immediately put it ahead of all the other books that I had planned to read for October. Though, in hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have read this and Horns so close together, but whatever, that’s not the fault of the books but mine.

In The Waking Dark, a small town in Kansas experiences a horrific day when twelve people were killed. A year later, just when the town’s getting back to some sense of normalcy again, a strong tornado sweeps across the town, pulling up the secrets of the past along with a murderous miasma that seems to take over everybody in town except for the five teenagers who were also around when the killings happened. Is there a connection between the two events? And why is the government keeping everybody from leaving town?

Robin Wasserman is possibly the queen of ominous moody settings. Oleander is such a quaint, nice-sounding place — but it’s these kinds of towns that harbor the darkest secrets. If you’re a conspiracy nut, you’ll love this to pieces! The reveal wasn’t totally unexpected, but something happens in the last dozen pages that totally tore my heart out of its cavity. I thought it was a quick read — Wasserman isn’t afraid to pull the trigger, literally and metaphorically — but there were some instances when it was hard to tell certain characters apart since they sounded so similar.

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion (Atria, 2010). Possibly my favorite of this bunch. This surprises me, since I’ve mentioned elsewhere repeatedly that I hate the mere idea of zombies and now the sudden proliferation of zombies in literature.

If you haven’t seen the movie, Warm Bodies follows R, a youngish looking zombie who resides in an airport terminal. One day, while out hunting for tasty human brains, R consumes the brain of Perry, and in eating this brain, he experiences all of Perry’s memories and experiences — much of which includes his girlfriend Julie. Because R sorta knows Julie through Perry’s memories, he feels protective towards her and makes sure she doesn’t get her brain eaten by the other zombies. An awkward friendship (more?) develops from there.

I really could’ve done without the gross brain- and flesh-eating descriptions, but I thought this novel was exceptionally well-written. R is extremely self-aware, zombie or not, so his reflections on his existence were interesting to read. There were many poignant scenes between R and Julie, and I think what made it especially sweet was precisely because they were different and learning about each other.

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. Gothy and dark, but with that trademark Wilde wit. I have been wanting to read this ever since I was in college; I had to read “The Importance of Being Earnest” twice, but somehow the novel was never included in the reading list.

In 2013 parlance, Dorian is the personification of “sorry I’m not sorry.” He likes being the center of attention, being adored, and being able to get away with the things that being young, rich, and beautiful can afford. What I found interesting about this story is that it’s not a moral tale; we don’t get the sense that there is true remorse or guilt from Dorian. Even though there were a few instances where it seemed like he was almost going to get caught for his sins, he managed to somehow evade it, coming out unscathed on the other side. In the end though, Dorian could only run from himself and his evil so far. Nobody needed to condemn him, as the weight of his wrongdoings were always with him, and the portrait was only the viewable artifact of the scourge of his many crimes.

Let  Me In by John Ajvide Lindqvist (Thomas Dunne Books, 2007, orig. pub. 2004). Left this one for last — or second to last — since I had a feeling that it would be the creepiest one of them all. And it was.

Let Me In follows Oscar, a preteen boy living in the Stockholm suburbs, and how he meets Eli, a vampire. Oscar and Eli’s friendship is actually quite sweet to read as it unfolds through the narrative; both of them are lonely and isolated, and somehow find in each other a kindred spirit.

What freaked me out was just the ugliness and the violence that surrounded them both. From the first chapter, Oscar had to endure being bullied and hurt and abused. Even his family life isn’t safe– with a mostly absent mother and an alcoholic father. Eli, on the other hand, lives with one of the creepiest characters that I’ve ever encountered in literature: Håkan. Even though Eli’s a vampire, Håkan, in many ways, is a bigger monster. Again, in what has seemed to be a recurring theme among all the books that I’ve read this month, monsters and demons are always around us, even the ones that don’t look like it.

Are you reading or watching anything creepy in the spirit of Halloween? Let me know, I’m curious to hear your suggestions!

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